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Master did not abuse discretion in giving more weight to written appraisal report with more recent comparables.

This case involves the appeal by John E. Wallace (Husband) of a marital award in the dissolution of his marriage to Christina Masciere Wallace (Wife). On appeal, Husband argued that the trial court erred when it sustained Wife's objection to hearsay testimony by Husband's real estate appraiser. He claimed that the court had mistakenly discredited the live testimony of his expert appraiser as to the valuation of the marital home, instead, crediting a written appraisal.

Husband claimed that the court-appointed Master abused her discretion when she disregarded the testimony of his appraiser, who stated the fair market value of the home was $282,000, and accepted an appraised value of $252,000 prepared by an appraiser for Wife. Husband contended that "oral in-court reaffirmation of his $282,000 appraisal at the hearing was the best evidence and the most-timely evidence of [the value of] the marital residence." He also argued that his appraiser relied on more trustworthy comparables than Wife's appraiser, particularly with regard to location. Husband stated the Master did not "read the wife's appraiser appraisal with a critical eye" and "wholly overlooked that the Wife's appraiser appraisal bears all of the markings of a result-driven appraisal of the marital residence."

The court found that the Master gave a detailed explanation as to why she gave "very little weight" on husband's appraiser's hearing testimony, particularly because he attempted to discredit the appraised value rendered by Wife's appraiser. First, the Master stated that although Husband's appraiser testified he only "read" the report of Wife's appraiser and did not "review" it, "it was clear that the purpose of [his] testimony was to challenge the fair market value assigned by Wife's appraiser. Second, the Master found Husband's appraiser's testimony did not "square with the contents of his fair market value appraisal," particularly with regard to the property located across the street from the marital residence. The Master focused on the testimony of husband's appraiser that was inconsistent with the information listed in both appraisers' appraisals. Third, the Master explained the comparable properties in the Wife's appraisal were more recent sales than those in the Husband's appraisal.

The Husband attempted to undermine the credibility of Wife's appraiser's valuation by emphasizing that his appraiser's comparables were located much closer to the marital residence-less than one mile away, while two of the three comparables used by Wife's appraiser were 2.5 and 7 miles from the marital residence. The Master took the locales into account, though, and even appeared to discount one of Wife's comparable properties from another town. Ultimately, however, the Master found the more-recent sales in Wife's appraisal, particularly the property across the street from the marital residence, were more reflective of the value of the marital home, providing a more accurate picture of the value of homes similar to marital property at or near the date of distribution. For this reason, the Master accepted the value submitted by Wife's appraiser as the fair market value of the marital residence for purposes of equitable distribution.

The court found no error in the Master's use of the "the most recent in time appraisal [as] the most appropriate in determining the value of the marital residence." The court concluded that Husband failed to provide a basis to disagree with the Master's findings and affirmed the decree in divorce.

by Scott B. Mueller, JD

Wallace v. Wallace

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 12, 2017

2017 WL 4550872

Scott B. Mueller, JD, is a partner in the St. Louis office of the firm Stinson Leonard Street LLP. His legal practice concentrates in real estate and banking litigation. He is a frequent speaker and presenter at continuing legal education seminars and has spoken on issues such as recession-related title defects, mechanic's liens, title insurance fundamentals, landlord and tenant law, mediation, and presenting evidence in real estate cases. He is licensed to practice in the state and federal courts in Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois. Mueller's article, "Is Equitable Subrogation Dead for Lenders and Insurers in Missouri," was published in the Journal of the Missouri Bar. He is a member of the City of Webster Groves's City Plan Commission. Contact:
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Author:Mueller, Scott B.
Publication:Appraisal Journal
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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